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People of Faith Make Better Leaders?

Carly Fiorina is obviously pandering to the religious conservatives at the 2016 Iowa Caucus Consortium Candidate Forum. Let me address her claims that a person of genuine faith is a better leader.

First, let’s define faith. In a nutshell, it’s belief without evidence. Religious faith, in particular, is belief in the supernatural (e.g. angels, fairies, leprechauns) without evidence. Personally speaking, I believe in chocolate. I can prove it exists and it’s delicious.

She goes on to cite 3 primary reasons that a person of genuine faith is a better leader: they have empathy, humility, and optimism. I have a few brief points to make on each of these claims.

  1. Empathy: Tens of thousands of years ago, we lived in small family groups, tribes, and later villages. It was really important to have empathy and altruistic tendencies because we may likely see the same people over and over throughout our lifetimes. And we may need their help one day too. These traits are generally self-serving, and part of the human condition. We inately want to help people because we see ourselves in them, and have evolved to do so. We don’t need the fear of eternal Hell fire or Jesus to feel this way.

  2. Humility: Religions can’t truly embrace humility so long as they claim to have all the answers regarding the universe and our place in it. Asking “what if I’m wrong?” is not something a devout believer asks themselves. They know they’re right, and you’re wrong, regardless of evidence. That’s not humility. Someone who thinks this way is immediately handicapped in the humility department.

  3. Optimism: People who blindly believe in the supernatural may well be very optimistic. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re going to a better place when they die, so what’s to worry about? Usually religion is indoctrinated into someone at a young age, and our collective fear of death helps keep it in place. But even without those blinders, people without religious faith can and are certainly optimistic about a great many things. I have a feeling that constant fear of death, sin, contrition, and redemption keep the religious a bit on edge most of the time. So the optimism is likely a narrow focus. But people are all different. Some are optimistic, some are not. In the end, it depends on the individual.

2016 Iowa Caucus Consortium Candidate Forum


Totem 2 First to Apple Watch

Totem 2 is the first secular/humanist/atheist reference with an Apple Watch app. I’ve taken the Notification Center Quote of the Day feature and placed it on your wrist. You can even tap to advance to another quote, making it easy and convenient to pass the time exploring the philosophy of thought leaders and other provocative figures.

Check out the Totem App for more information.


Schoolyard Epistemology

The concept of multiculturalism carries with it both the literal burdens and benefits of peaceful coexistence. We tend not to think about it much, insulated by the everpresent comfort of those who think (and maybe even worship) like us… until we have children. Our little nose miners bring so many changes to our lives, one of which is the persistent, nagging push to integrate outside that warm security blanket of like-minded individuals we’ve found ourselves wrapped within. That’s when things get interesting.

Many people have said that “life is a collection of moments”. How we handle each moment makes a big impact on our life as a whole, as well as the lives of those with whom we share these moments. It’s important to remember this, especially when dealing with children.

Our adult children currently don’t harbor any particular interest in the subject of religion (pretty much like most people their age), and our youngest is encouraged to steer clear of the topic of religion with her friends and to just be an unencumbered 8-year-old. She’s certainly not old enough to have a worldview, let alone a label. But we’re surrounded by a large number of families that practice varying forms of Christianity. So it’s tough for her to fit in with her peer group, as you can imagine.

Schoolyard epistemology can be very different for an 8-year-old than it is for a child in high school. For an older child, it’s about challenging ideas and making those with religious beliefs really think about why they hold them. For a young child, it’s more about diffusing the situation and changing the subject to something more appropriate. But there are times when a young child is pressed and needs to be able to respond to some degree. That response is an opportunity to diffuse the situation, and (potentially) prevent it from recurring by answering in a way that causes the other child to think beyond the church club mindset.


We talk with our daughter about our worldview, morality, and all the other normal concerns a parent would discuss with their child. She understands that we don’t believe in gods and ghosts and things like that. And she knows that she’s too young to be worrying about these things; that it’s something children her age shouldn’t discuss casually. She also knows that when the time comes, if she wants to experience church, or other place of worship, we’d be happy to take her and help explain the rituals and answer questions as best we can. We try to balance this with the need to respect other parents’ right to raise their children as they see fit.

All that said, one of the primary tenets of any religion is to recruit new believers, so children of religious parents have no problem interrogating other kids who aren’t in their church club. In our case, most of the time, she’ll get benign questions from them regarding the reason she doesn’t go to church. But there are tougher questions as well. To help our daughter cope and begin to understand the irrational view of religious belief, we form a conversation around the questions so that she gets context and ideas on how to respond and diffuse and get back to simply being a second grader. Of course, some of the responses are hard for her to remember or even understand, which is why we prefer that she avoid the topic whenever possible. But in time she will understand well enough.

Obviously, there will be plenty of time to discuss these matters with her peers when she’s an appropriate age. But so far our experience is that the children of religious parents bring up the topic at some point. And of all the times the topic has been raised, it has almost always been raised by the other children. Our daughter simply doesn’t think about these things. But when cornered, her responses must be honest, straightforward, give the other child something to think about (the schoolyard epistemology part), and give her a way to change the subject.

Here is one typical exchange we’ve re-enacted with her.

Q: “Why don’t you go to church?”
A: “There are a lot of gods and churches. Which church?”

Q: “My church.”
A: “My parents believe different things.” or “My parents said that I can go to a church when I’m older if I want to.”
A: “…Besides, a lot of kids in this school don’t go to your church. Can we just play [something] now?”

If the other child continues to press the question, there are other responses we recommend to her, like the following.

Q: “Why?” or “You should go to church.”
A: “Why do you think we should go?”

Q: “If you don’t [believe in God/go to church] you’ll go down to the bad place with the Devil when you die.”
A: “Does your god love everyone?”

Q: “Yes.”
A: “Does he send good people to that bad place?”

Q: “No.”
A: “Do you think I’m a good person?”

Q: “Yes.”
A: “Then don’t worry about me going to that bad place. Can we just play [something] now?”

If the child insists that church attendance is required to stay out of that bad place, we recommend this line of reasoning to our daughter.

Q: “But you have to go to church, otherwise you’ll go to the bad place when you die.”
A: “My parents said that I can go to a church when I’m older, so I don’t have to worry about it now. Can we just play [something] now?”

There have been times that the child will say something proudly about the fact that they’re old enough to go now, or even that our daughter is old enough too. But at that point it’s easy enough for her to change the subject. Prior to that, she can lean on the fact that we don’t allow her to go at this age, so it’s not her choice.

Sometimes the question starts with the concept of belief instead of church attendance. In this case, this is what we tell our daughter to say.

Q: “[Why don’t you/Do you] believe in God?”
A: “I’m just a kid. I don’t think about stuff like that. Can we just play [something] now?”

But if the topic can’t be diffused, an alternative response could be something like this.

Q: “[Why don’t you/Do you] believe in God?”
A: “Which god?”

Q: (various answers from “God” or “Jesus”, to some other description)
A: “Thor is a god. Why don’t you [believe in Thor/go to church for Thor]? Can we just play [something] now?”

If the child is persistent…

Q: “Thor’s not real. God is real.”
A: “Lots of people believed in Thor like you believe in your god. He was real to them. Can we just play [something] now?”

Most of the kids are familiar with Thor from the Marvel movie The Avengers, so this is an easy one for her. I always joke with her that if you’re going to choose to worship a god, it might as well be a really cool one. And Thor has a magic hammer and can control lightning. So he is way better than Jesus in her mind.

Church Events

Another way that churches recruit new sheep to the flock is by holding various events where churchgoers are encouraged to bring guests. Many of these events are targeted at children. There’s no way your child wants to miss the Harvest Festival that has games and Halloween pumpkin carving and such, when their friend asks them to go. And you will undoubtedly look and feel like a miserable, boring killjoy when you decide that your child can’t go because they’re not old enough to understand and separate the concept of a fun event from the reality of religious indoctrination. Their minds are still developing. The processes of understanding how to reason and evaluate the world can be compromised very easily in young children. As a thinking adult your child can make the proper choice. But now is not that time.

One option to try would be to go with your child to the event. Make this a requirement for her attendance. Before you go, explain to her that this fun event is something the church is doing to celebrate, but also to make money to pay for things, and maybe even to convince people to believe what they believe and start going to their church. You may also want to explain that when you go to church, you have to give them money to support them, so it’s kind of like a business where you pay for stuff. I like the coupon metaphor. You get a coupon for a free cheeseburger so that you’ll go to the restaurant, eat it, like it, and come back to pay for more later. And that’s one reason they do this kind of thing.

When there, take the opportunity to explain things to your child. For example, if there’s a fun ride or game modeled after Noah’s ark, explain that it’s from a story in the Bible and summarize the story and its implausibility for her. Could two of every animal on earth fit on a boat? How would animals get across the ocean to other countries? Why didn’t carnivores like lions try to eat the other animals? Why did their god need a man to build a boat and collect animals in the first place? There are lots of great questions for such a silly story.

The second option is to simply disallow your child from going to the event. This is the tough choice. But it’s easier if you explain what the event is about and that when she’s older she can attend these events with her friends. This is how we’ve handled it to-date, and she hasn’t created too big of a stink about it.


Once, I overheard one of my daughter’s friends tell her that Jesus died for her. So later on in the car I explained what that meant, in relatively graphic detail. I felt that she could handle it. Not every child will be ready when this subject comes up, so this is obviously a judgement call. This was consistent for us, as we try to be honest with her about the tough stuff. I gave her the quick synopsis of the New Testament:

Your friend believes that God created the first man and woman, and that the woman was fooled by a talking snake into eating a piece of fruit that God told her not to eat. So they were punished, and all people born after were punished too. Those first two people had children and all of their children got married to each other and had more children who married each other. Yes, brothers married sisters. Pretty gross, right?

So then God decided to be born on earth as Jesus (so God is his son, and the son is the father at the same time; weird right?), and then he told some people about who he was, performed some miracles like making sick people well, and then let the Roman army put a crown of thorns on his head and crucify him on a cross. Crucifying is when someone has nails hammered into their wrists and feet to attach them to a wooden cross and is left to die a horrible death.

After 3 days the zombie Jesus came back from the dead, left his burial tomb to talk to some of his followers, and then eventually vanished into heaven. He suffered this way as a punishment for what that first woman did (eating the fruit). So now when people die they can go to heaven.

So when someone corners her with the “Jesus died for you” line, I tell her that she should ask them, “Why didn’t your god just forgive people? Why did he have to kill himself?” She once told me that the talking snake thing was pretty weird. And this is from a second grader who believes in Santa Claus.

At some point you might be asked if Jesus was real. When this happened to me, after a few seconds I realized that she didn’t mean as a god. She wanted to know if he existed, historically speaking. I told her that no one knows for sure if he really existed as a human being; lots of people were named Jesus back then. But chances are that he did, as far as we know today. But many of the stories about him were written a long time after he died, by people who didn’t know him.

Fitting In

Our daughter has had moments where she’s asked if she can go to church with her friends, mainly because she wants to fit in and experience something new and exciting. We don’t allow this, and explain to her that going to church means that you have to believe the things that they tell you to believe, even if they’re really weird and not true. And in our family, we don’t want to believe things that aren’t true. We also tell her that they don’t like it when you ask them tough questions about their faith; the things they believe without any proof. And in our family, we ask questions and want to know what’s real and true without others telling us to just believe things without any proof.

I also remind her that when she’s older, we can all go to church so that she can see what it’s like. She likes that answer, though, she asks if we can go right now. We love her enthusiasm and curiosity. Obviously we have to tell her to wait a bit. Then she starts throwing out ages to see when she can go. Of course, she starts at her next birthday, to which we reply “no” with each successive age until she hits the later teenage years, when we respond with maybes and eventually “sure”.

You have to admire her persistence.


Totem 2 Updated for iOS 8 and iPhone 6

Totem is an iPhone app created to help atheists, humanists, and skeptics in their quest for civic equality through education. This secular lexicon contains information that spans the gamut on the subject of belief, including content about world religions and theology, as well as inspiration for the non-believer through witty and insightful quotes, arguments, facts, and more. Broaden your worldview by exploring those of theists, with a special focus on Judeo-Christian belief. Increase your ability to make cogent arguments against belief while respecting others’ right to believe what they choose.

What’s New?

Totem 2 has been optimized for iOS 8 and iPhone 6. The design aesthetic has been updated to provide iOS 8 cohesion and defer to content. Retina HD support has been added as well, so iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users will see more content if they choose. And I’ve added a Notification Center “Today” widget for daily quotes.

Get It Today!

Visit the App Store and try it today. Embrace reason. Find peace.



Totem 2 for iPhone Now Available

Totem 2 for iPhone was created to help atheists, humanists, and skeptics in their quest for civic equality through education. This secular lexicon contains information that spans the gamut on the subject of belief, including content about world religions and theology, as well as inspiration for the non-believer through witty and insightful quotes, arguments, facts, and more. Broaden your worldview by exploring those of theists, with a special focus on Judeo-Christian belief. Increase your ability to make cogent arguments against belief while respecting others’ right to believe what they choose.

And there’s more than just great content. The user interface is gorgeous; modern and responsive. But it’s not just attractive. It’s also fast and easy to use. Searches are multi-threaded making them incredibly responsive, and content is really easy to find with categories and groupings. And once you find the right quote, for example, you can share it using the new iOS 7 sharing sheet.

Visit the Totem 2 product page for more information.

Perhaps Secular Totem will help, in its own small way, to provide a future where an open atheist isn’t branded as immoral or amoral, and can enjoy civic equality with the rest of the country.

What’s New?

  • All new iOS 7 design
  • Works great with iOS 7 system text sizes
  • Focus on content; no extra fluff
  • Beautiful typography and photography
  • Lots of preset filters, categories, and sources
  • Hide the navigation and tab bars for more reading space
  • More powerful search
  • Enhanced sharing of quotes
  • More biographies, more quotes, more articles, and more reference items!

Get It Today!

Visit the App Store and try it today. Embrace reason. Find peace.



Put Christ Back in Christmas

Most Bible scholars agree that the modern Christmas celebration is of pagan origin. In his book 4000 Years of Christmas, Earl W. Count, Professor of Anthropology at Hamilton College, explains the origin of the Christmas celebration:

“We do not know its beginning… we do not really know when the Christ child it venerates was born: or the time and place when Christmas was first celebrated: or exactly how it was that, over the centuries, a bishop saint of Asia Minor, and a pagan god of the Germans merged to become Santa Claus.”

“Christmas began over 4000 years ago as the festival which renewed the world for another year. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires and probably the yule log; the giving of presents; the carnivals with their floats; their merry makings and clowning; the mummers who sing and play from house to house, the feasting; the church processions with their lights and song—all these and more began three centuries before Christ was born. And they celebrated the arrival of a new year.” (ibid., page 18).

December 25?

How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year—than from paganism. Then again, in this notion of cycles and the return of God’s redemption, we may perhaps also be touching upon something that the pagan Romans who celebrated Sol Invictus, and many other peoples since, would have understood and claimed for their own, too.

But according to The Good News magazine, a careful analysis of Scripture clearly indicates that Dec. 25 is an unlikely date for Christ’s birth. Here are two primary reasons:

First, we know that shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:7-8). Shepherds were not in the fields during December. According to Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays, Luke’s account “suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night” (p. 309).

Similarly, The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary says this passage argues “against the birth [of Christ] occurring on Dec. 25 since the weather would not have permitted” shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields at night.

Second, Jesus’ parents came to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4). Such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition. Taking a census under such conditions would have been self-defeating.

Given the difficulties and the desire to bring pagans into Christianity, “the important fact then . . . to get clearly into your head is that the fixing of the date as December 25th was a compromise with paganism” (William Walsh, The Story of Santa Klaus, 1970, p. 62).

If Jesus Christ wasn’t born on Dec. 25, does the Bible indicate when he was born? The biblical accounts point to the fall of the year as the most likely time of Jesus’ birth, based on the conception and birth of John the Baptist.

Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this course of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year ( The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200).

It was during this time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived (verses 23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

(non) Christmas Tree

The North American Christmas tree tradition was introduced to Canada in the winter of 1781 by Brunswick soldiers stationed in the Province of Quebec to garrison the colony against American attack. General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel and his wife, the Baroness von Riedesel, held a Christmas party at Sorel, delighting their guests with a fir tree decorated with candles and fruits.

A woodcut of the British Royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, initially published in The Illustrated London News, December 1848, was copied in the United States at Christmas in 1850, in Godey’s Lady’s Book. Godey’s copied it exactly, except for the removal of the Queen’s tiara and Prince Albert’s mustache, to remake the engraving into an American scene. The republished Godey’s image became the first widely circulated picture of a decorated evergreen Christmas tree in America. Art historian Karal Ann Marling called Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, shorn of their royal trappings, “the first influential American Christmas tree”. Folk-culture historian Alfred Lewis Shoemaker states, “In all of America there was no more important medium in spreading the Christmas tree in the decade 1850–60 than Godey’s Lady’s Book”. The image was reprinted in 1860, and by the 1870s, putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica:

“The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

In short, the centerpiece of the modern Christmas celebration, the tree, is decidedly non-Christian in origin; adopted and transformed into a metaphor for the Christian concept of eternal life.


So if we want to put Christ back in Christmas, we need to move the date and get rid of the tree. Alternatively, outraged Christians can celebrate however they choose, and be tolerant of people who are merely cultural Christians, even the ones who don’t believe in the magic baby Jesus concocted by Saul of Tarsus (the former Pharisee who is responsible for modern Catholicism).


The Two State Dream. Keep Dreaming.

The occasional tension and mostly outright anti-semitic hatred that Arabs have for Israel is a complex issue, but a large part of it is directly related to the Palestinian desire to push every last Jew out of Israel and into the Mediterranean Sea. And as we hear about the struggle to create a two-state solution, one can only wonder, “how did we get here? Why is this so hard?”

The following is a transcript from a video summary by Encounter Books titled “Debunking the Palestine Lie”. It does a great job of explaining the western view of the Israeli-Palestinian timeline.


On May 16th 2011 the New York Times published an op-ed titled “The Long Overdue Palestinian State” by Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority. In that piece, Abbas called for the United Nations to formally recognize a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, regardless of negotiations with the state of Israel.

The article appeared just a few days before Barack Obama’s much-anticipated speech on the Arab Spring in which the President also tried to jumpstart peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Authority.

“To reach an agreement on a two state solution,” Obama declared, “Israel must agree to return to the pre-1967 borders modified only by mutually agreed land swaps.”

Neither Mr. Abbas nor Mr. Obama can explain how anyone could have recognized a United Nations designated Palestinian state that Palestinian leaders and the Arab states themselves have rejected.

Of the troubles in Ireland, the poet William Butler Yeats once wrote, “Great hatred, little room, maimed us at the start.”

Post Wold War I

In Palestine at the start there was plenty of room, more than enough room, for a prosperous Jewish state and a prosperous Arab state.

After World War I ended with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations established “The Mandate for Palestine” including all of the land that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, plus the entire territory east of the Jordan River now called the Kingdom of Jordan. The area under the mandate was as large as Syria and about half as large as Iraq, yet the total population at the time was less than 1 million, of whom 10% were Jews.

It was in that vast, underdeveloped and underpopulated territory that the British had promised in the language of the 1917 Balfour declaration to “…support the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration also promised that “…nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Open Jewish immigration to the holy land was encouraged, as was freedom of speech, religion, and assembly for the Arabs of Palestine; rights they had sorely lacked under Turkish rule. Mired for more than two centuries of backwardness and grinding poverty, Palestinians were never recognized by the Ottoman Empire as possessing any distinctive national identity.

The Palestinians quickly took advantage of their new freedom to speak bluntly, demanding a stop to the Jewish immigration that had just begun. Said one Arab representative during the Paris peace conference, “We will push the Zionists into the sea, or they will send us back into the desert.” Aref al-Dajani, Palestinian leader from Jerusalem warned, “It is impossible to live with the Jews. In all the countries where they are at present they are not wanted because they always arrive to suck the blood of everybody. If the League of Nations will not listen to the appeal of the Arabs, this country will become a river of blood.”

Well, as promised, blood did flow when the Palestinian demand to end Jewish immigration was not granted. Jerusalem was the first flashpoint for regular Arab attacks on Jewish communities. In April 1920, Palestinians from nearby towns poured into the old city. The Muslim Mayor of Jerusalem and other notables worked up the crowd to launch a jihad against the Jews.

“If we don’t use force against the Zionists and against the Jews we will never be rid of them,” urged newspaper editor Aref al-Aref. The crowd shouted back, “We will drink the blood of the Jews!” …shouting Islamic slogans like, “Mohammed’s religion was born with the sword!” Thousands surged through the Jewish quarter and into West Jerusalem. The mobs vented their rage against any Jew they could find, burning and looting homes and stores, and even attacking British and Arab policemen. After several days of rioting, the final toll was six Jews dead, hundreds beaten, and widespread destruction of property.

What became known as “The Nebi Musa Riot” was the opening shot in a 90 year war to reverse the Balfour Declaration. And things soon got worse as the Allies, to assuage the fears of Arab monarchs, separated the land east of the Jordan river out of the total area accessible to Jewish immigrants and created the Emirate of Transjordan. Reconciling the aspirations of Arabs and Jews became far more tenuous after the Balfour Declaration had to be carried out in the truncated area of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

World War II

There was now much less room and a great deal more hatred. The decades that followed were marred by perpetual violence against the Jews both in Palestine and in Europe. The two were often linked. Under the leadership of the Grand Mufti and President of the Supreme Muslim Council, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Arabs of Palestine waged an endless jihad against their Jewish neighbors. When the British sent a royal commission to investigate a solution, the Jews, represented by Chaim Weizmann, pressed for partition of the territory into two states even if the territory assigned to the Jews was the size of a tablecloth.

The Peel Commission’s final report, published in July 1937, proposed such a division. The Jews were offered an independent state in a small enclave along the sea coast from Tel Aviv to the north of the country, constituting about 20% of the remaining mandate territory, while the Palestinian Arabs would get 80% for their own state. Desperate for any means to be able to bring in large numbers of the endangered European Jews, the Zionists reluctantly accepted the commission’s partition plan. Lead by the Mufti, the Arabs rejected the partition out of hand and pressed on with the armed revolt against the mandate.

The British succeeded in putting down the violence for a time. al-Husseini was sent into exile, ultimately, in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, where he lived as a special guest of the Fuhrer. But severe limitations were placed on Jewish immigration to the Holy Land in the years leading up to the Holocaust that undoubtedly directly lead to the death of many thousands of European Jews. Following the atrocities of the second World War, Britain relinquished authority over the mandate to the newly formed United Nations. The U.N. created yet another commission to try to figure out what to do with the contested territory.

The Cold War

The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, recommended by a vote of 7 to 3, yet another two state solution; another partition plan to the General Assembly. This plan would have seen the territory divided almost equally between Jews and Arabs. Once again the Zionists made public their acceptance of the proposal and once again Arab officials announced that any partition would be met with rivers of blood. Shortly after the U.N. vote, the 20 member Arab League sent their newly organized Arab Liberation Army against the Jews of Palestine.

Elements of five regular Arab armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon invaded Israel on May 15 1948. Arab League Secretary General Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam vowed, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongol massacres and the crusades.” But despite their overwhelming numbers and heated rhetoric, after a year of fighting, it was the Jewish state that won a decisive victory. Based on the 1949 armistice lines, Israel’s territory expanded by almost 40%. The Palestinian Arabs were the big losers.

For the second time in ten years, their leaders rejected a partition plan that would have given them independence and more land designated for their state than for the Jewish state. Instead, they ended up with nothing, and 650,000 Palestinians became refugees. Jordan’s King Abdullah sent his Arab Legion to occupy the Palestinian West Bank and annex the territory to his Kingdom. Egypt took the Gaza Strip and for the next 18 years denied Palestinians any civil rights. It never occurred to the rulers of Jordan or Egypt to create a state for the homeless Palestinians, nor did new Palestinian leaders, like Yasser Arafat, protest the occupation of their land by foreign rulers.

Modern Day

Three times in the past decade Israeli Prime Ministers have offered Palestinian leaders an independent state far more generous than anything Jordan and Egypt ever allowed when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza. At Camp David in 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to the border suggested by President Clinton that would have established a West Bank/Gaza/Palestinian state with some territorial adjustments and with the Palestinians getting East Jerusalem as their capital.

For his part, Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat walked out of negotiations, went back home, and launched Second Intifada. Invoking Islamic Jew hatred as justification, the Palestinians conducted a three-year brutal campaign of suicide bombings against Israeli pizza parlors, wedding halls, and discoteques. In 2005 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided that it was against Israel’s security interest to govern the 1.1 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Sharon dismantled all of the Jewish settlements and pulled Israeli forces back across the 1967 borders between Israel and Gaza without even any land swaps. As an added bonus, Israel left the Palestinians a thriving flower export industry to help jumpstart the local economy. The Palestinian’s response to this generosity? Well, first they destroyed the donated greenhouses and then they launched a war of missiles and rockets against civilian targets in Israel.

In a September 2008 meeting in Jerusalem, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented President Obama with a detailed map of a future Palestinian state that, with land swaps, would constitute close to 100% of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza prior to the June 1967 war. Olmert also offered to divide Jerusalem, enabling the Palestinians to locate their capital in the eastern half of the city.

Promising to come back the next day for further discussions, Abbas took Olmert’s map to his Romola office just a few miles outside Jerusalem for his aides to study. But Abbas never returned with the map.

This was the last time Israeli and Palestinian leaders met. Many times over the last 63 years, both the international community and the state of Israel have offered the Arabs of Palestine their own state. Each time these offers have been met by more violence against Jewish citizens. Neither President Abbas nor President Obama are ignorant of this fact. They simply both choose to ignore it. For Mr. Abbas, this refusal seems to be a part of a consistent thread woven throughout the Arab war against the Jews. Mr. Obama’s positions remain more mysterious.


Considerations for Creationism

Recently, New Orleans schools banned creationist curriculum in science classes, shunning Texas revisionist “science” textbooks. This was a big win for the cause of reason, and sanity in general. It reminded me just how ridiculous the argument is, and the fact that so many people in the United States actually believe the asinine concept of creationism is truly chilling.

Evolution is technically a scientific theory but considered a fact. This is due to the mountains of evidence backing it up, which include observations of evolution by random mutation and natural selection in the present day animal kingdom, and over a century of attempts to debunk its validity.

So what is a scientific fact? What is a theory or hypothesis?

Science generally uses the formulation of falsifiable hypotheses developed through systematic empiricism. Hypotheses that cannot ever be disproven are not real science.

Hypotheses are generally formed by observing whatever it is you are studying, with the objective of understanding the nature of the subject. This is systematic empiricism.

Many scientists hold the belief that a hypothesis cannot ever be proven, only disproven. This is especially true in historical sciences like paleontology, where a time machine would be the only true way to prove a hypothesis.

Acceptance of scientific ideas is based on a process of publication and peer review. To become a legitimate theory (but still not established fact), a hypothesis must be subjected to the approval of a scientist’s peers and published in an accredited scientific journal. This process maintains scientific integrity. Most significantly, this helps to maintain science as a process rather than a gradual accumulation of facts, ever creeping forward towards omniscience. Theories tend to persist until a better theory is proposed and gains broad acceptance.

For the scientific community to accept a finding, other scientists must be able to follow the same methods you used and come up with the same results. In short, the scientific method is the use of reason and evidence in order to learn about a specific thing or process, and then everyone tries to prove you wrong. After a while, it becomes an accepted fact and everyone rejoices at the furtherance of our knowledge of the universe. If it is found to be invalid at any later time, a new theory takes its place and the process begins again.

So what is creationism and why isn’t it science?

There are two primary types of Christian creationists. The first type are Bible literalists that accept everything as it was written in the book of Genesis. This includes a universe created in seven days about 6,000 years ago, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, a talking snake, etc. It can even include the preposterous claim that humans existed alongside dinosaurs, and even used them in agriculture (e.g. imagine a man riding on a saddled triceratops).

I’ve read many claims from these literalists that evolution is just a theory, demanding that evidence be shown to them regarding evolution. But instead of demanding that evolutionary biologists bring them evidence like some kind of scientific pizza delivery service, I would suggest that they go out and view the evidence for themselves. They should start at the closest museum of natural history, and work their way outward from there.

Secondarily, they should ask themselves if it’s truly reasonable to consider that Adam and Eve bore out the entire human race by means of mass incest, after a talking snake told Eve to eat from a tree of knowledge in a magical garden.

The second type of creationist is the progressive. They hedge their bets by accepting evolution, but only as a process started and stewarded by a divine creator who also insists on evolving deadly viruses and bacteria, as well as other nasties. These creationists include the likes of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s obvious why the Roman Catholic Church would take this stance as an attempt to maintain relevance in the face of utter embarrassment in an intellectually evolving world. But the other believers seem to me to be reasonably intelligent people who are desperately clinging to their religious beliefs either as a means of conformity, or to avoid the admission of years wasted believing in the absurd.

To these creationists I would say, take the last step towards reason. Though you may create a rift with your peer intellectual laggards, and you may realize that much of your life was wasted on childish beliefs, be brave and move forward toward a fulfilling life based on reason and the search for answers. Stop walking and drop the religious baggage so that you can run.


Mitt Romney Believes Crazy Shit

Mitt Romney has been adjusting his message more toward the ultra-conservative religious right of the party ever since Rick Santorum surged in the polls, winning the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, as well as a nonbinding primary in Missouri. Apparently, Mitt’s quite devout. But when explaining his religious beliefs, he dances around the subject, never getting into too much detail. So in the interest of clarity for the Republican voting public, and a bit of what I call “tardy honesty”, I give you some of the top things Mitt Romney believes as a practicing Mormon, with some descriptive commentary.

  1. Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers and we were all born as siblings in heaven to them both (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163).
  2. He believes that God lives near a planet called “Kolob”.
  3. He believes in baptizing dead people. Yeah, whether they like it or not!
  4. God is married to his goddess wife and has spirit children (Mormon Doctrine, p. 516).
  5. There are three levels of heaven: telestial, terrestrial, and celestial (Mormon Doctrine, p. 348).
  6. He believes that The Garden of Eden was in Missouri.
  7. He believes that it was impossible for Negroes to go to Heaven before 1978. I think that’s when “Shaft” was cancelled.
  8. He believes that he’s going to become a god (DC 132:20).
  9. There are many gods (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163). Soon that’ll include one more: God Romney.
  10. He believes he’ll own a planet after he dies. He already owns Earth.
  11. He believes the real Christian God is not eternal but rather that He was once a man from another planet.
  12. He believes that he needs to wear magic underwear, created by Mormons, which is not to be removed unless he is bathing.
  13. He believes it’s a sin to drink anything containing caffeine, to use tobacco, or imbibe hot drinks for pleasure.
  14. There is no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet of God (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p. 188).
  15. A plan of salvation was needed for the people of earth, so Jesus and Satan both offered a plan to the Father. Jesus’ plan was accepted. In effect, the Devil wanted to be the Savior of all Mankind and to “deny men their agency and to dethrone god” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 193; Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 8). Good thing God had Jesus to help him make such an important decision.
  16. And, of course, if it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation. There is no salvation [the context is the full gospel including exaltation to Godhood] outside the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Doctrine, p. 670). Funny how all religions seem to be the one, true religion. But no, this one really is the one. There are many more tenets of the Mormon faith that would make your eyes roll, like the whole golden plates thing. But these should keep you busy until November.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Did Not Support Prayer in Public Schools

Dr. King supported the various Supreme Court decisions prohibiting government-sponsored prayer in public schools. In a January 1965 interview with Playboy magazine, Dr. King was asked about one of the rulings. Not only did he back the court’s decision, he added that his antithesis, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, stood on the other side of the argument.

“I endorse it. I think it was correct,” King said. “Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.”

Rob Boston of Americans United also notes that, in a time when some states still made it illegal to buy, sell or use birth control, Dr. King was in favor of greater access to it and was a strong progressive when it came to economics, health care, and poverty. He was also, of course, a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War.

Were he alive today, it’s unlikely King would endorse the Religious Right’s current crusades for teaching creationism and “intelligent design” in public schools. King saw no need for religion and science to fight. “Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism,” he once wrote.

In one of his most famous passages, King reminded Americans of the different roles religion and government play in society.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,” King wrote in Strength to Love, a sermon collection. “It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”